Mobile Lost, Mobile Found

My travel experiences are legendary in the office. I travel a lot, so you’d expect me to have a few incidents along the way, but I seem to have something go wrong on every trip. Like the time the window in my hotel room had a wall built a few centimetres outside it while the lights in my room didn’t work, or the time I was detained in the US because their computers said I was already in the US when I had arrived, or the time I spent three hours on the runway in Chicago in a storm, or the time the airport cops raided the terminal transfer bus to stem an “altercation”, or the time I arrived in Rome in the middle of a terrorist lock-down (just a security drill, only more chaotic), or … well, I think you get the picture.

This week’s trip was no different. It commenced 30 minutes after landing in Frankfurt. I took a taxi from the airport to a hotel in Darmstadt, with a driver who appeared to be steering with his elbows while he was composing a message on his mobile phone. I’ve witnessed this before, but never at 170kph. I decided not to test the afterlife theory by questioning his driving, on the grounds that an additional distraction could be terminal. So I took my mind of the stressful situation by making a few calls of my own.

Check-in at the hotel was prompt and efficient (probably less than a minute) as one has come to expect of the German tourist industry. On my way up the elevator, I noticed that my phone was no longer attached to my belt. “Not even in my room yet, and the inevitable ‘incident’ has begun,” I thought. Fortunately I carry a second mobile phone that I use for mobile Web work, so I quickly retrieved it from my bag and called the phone I had left in the taxi. No answer. No surprise. My first thought that the distraction had caused a pile-up on the Autobahn, but then I remembered that I had left my phone on vibrate so he probably didn’t notice it. I sent my phone a text message with the hotel name and my room number. I then proceeded to my room, deposited my bags and returned to the hotel lobby.

For several more minutes I rang my phone, and wandered around the outside of the hotel to get some fresh air at the same time. Suddenly there was an answer: Ja?

The next few minutes were comical. First it was obvious that whoever had my lost phone could not speak English. I don’t speak German. I figured this must be a passenger in the taxi. So I started running back to the hotel check-in. On the way the line went dead, so I rang again. Same guy. I reached the desk, handed my Web mobile to the nice lady and said “please help me, the guy at the other end has my mobile and I can’t speak German!” She then proceeded to try to explain. There seemed to be some confusion. The half of the dialogue I could hear seemed to be getting more and more agitated. This did not seem right. I could pick out certain words. The dialogue seemed to be going like this: “He gave me his mobile. … No, he says you have it. … Yes, I’m speaking on his mobile. … No, he is here.  … He says you have his mobile. … *Insert something unpleasant here.* …”

At this moment I leaned over the desk and said: “I have two mobiles.” This was relayed to the person at the other end, and suddenly there were smiles.

We arranged for my phone to be delivered to the hotel, and it arrived about two hours later.

The next few days were incident-free, as I spent time with my W3C MWI colleagues working through the tricky issues surrounding the design of the DDR API. (More on that in a separate note.) On the way back, the taxi reached 220kph, and once again the frailty of human beings was on my mind. I figured that if I made it to the airport in one piece, I’d write a quick note just to record this travel madness. Especially as I have to go to Banff in Canada a weeks’ time  for meetings of the W3C Advisory Committee, just ahead of the WWW2007 conference. I wonder what incidents I’ll have on that trip?

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